OFFICIALS and staff of Air21 have cast doubt on the reported plan to sell its PBA team to NLEX as players await word on what the future holds for a ballclub that is playing its best basketball this season.
Two days after NLEX declared that it has scrapped a plan to put up an expansion team in favor of buying an existing PBA franchise, Air21 has found itself at the center of a guessing game on which team the Metro Pacific Investments Inc.-controlled company is acquiring.
Air21 Express governor Lito Alvarez himself fanned the rumors when he told Spin.ph last week that he has held negotiations with NLEX regarding a possible sale.
But since NLEX team manager Ronald Dulatre's admission that the company has "agreed in principle" with one team on a sale that would be announced at the end of the ballclub's campaign in the Governors Cup, Alvarez has remained silent, even to his closest aides.
Even Air21 team owner Bert Lina said he is clueless about any sale, saying he has left all matters about the company's PBA team to Alvarez.
“I don’t know what's happening there eh. I just arrived from abroad. And besides I am not privy to that, you can ask Lito,” said Lina when Spin.ph caught up with him.
Even Lina's son in law, Wynne Arboleda, is puzzled by the eerie silence.
“Wala akong idea eh. Walang sinasabi sa amin si Boss Lito. Naka-abang nga rin kami sa kung ano susunod na mangyayari,” claimed Arboleda, husband of Lina’s daughter April.
“Wala talaga kaming alam eh. Walang biro,” added the veteran Air21 guard.
Alvarez’s most trusted lieutenant at the Air21 camp, Johnny Tam, claimed having no knowledge about any sale, saying his boss has not mentioned anything to him.
“Walang sinasabi sa akin si Boss Lito eh. Kilala ko yun, magkukwento 'yun kung may development na ganyan,” said Tam, now a member of Air21 coaching staff.
Another source from the Express camp who spoke on condition of anonymity declared that there is no way Alvarez will sell its franchise to the Manny V. Pangilinan camp considering that it is a chief rival of the San Miguel Corporation organization, where Alvarez has links being the cargo president of Philippine Airlines.
“Tingin ko malabong ibenta ni Boss Lito sa company na 'yun (NLEX) 'yung franchise. May chance pero manipis. Kasi saan ba siya nagtatrabaho ngayon?” said the source.
“Sa mga trades siguro, pupuwede siyang makipag-deal sa kabila (MVP group), pero mga ganyang franchise sale, baka hindi,” added the source.
So which team is NLEX in the process of acquiring?
Dulatre said: “Basta letter A (ang first letter). Sasabihin ko agad sa inyo kapag tapos na ang kanilang kampanya (sa current conference).”
Meanwhile, stars of the Air21 team are also keenly awaiting developments.
Though he insisted his focus is on the team's campaign in the playoffs, big man Asi Taulava said he’d like to take the team to a higher level to make the fans and the Air21 family happy.
“I heard the rumors, but I am not gonna comment on it. My focus is to win tonight’s game. We want to duplicate what we did last conference,” said Taulava.“I don’t care who will be the next owner, if there will be. What we want right now is to deal Rain or Shine a beating.
“Everything we do from this day forward is all about inspiring and motivating who your owners are. Right now, we want to do well. Whether we’re sold or not, we want to make our fans happy and proud,” added Taulava.
Star guard Joseph Yeo said he hopes that whatever happens from hereon will be for the good of the franchise as well as the players and staff.
“Sa amin naman wala kaming control sa kung ano ang mangyayari. Basta kami, lalaro kami. Gusto naming manalo nang manalo, hopefully umakyat sa finals,” said Yeo.
“Kung maibebenta nga kami, atleast makikita nung bagong owner na palaban 'yung team na ito at kaya talagang makipag-sabayan,” he added.
When asked if there have been feelers or announcements from the management regarding a possible change of ownership, Taulava and Yeo shook their heads.
“Wala akong nadidinig. Tahimik na tahimik sa amin. Practice at play lang ang natatalakay,” said Yeo.
“I don’t hear any. I just rely on the news that come out, all stuff you (Spin.ph) write. I have no idea on what’s cooking inside (the management). It’s really eerie out there, totally interesting,” said Taulava.
Alvarez, at this time, holds the key and, if reports are true, an announcement may be coming depending on the result of Air21's match against twice-to-beat Rain or Shine on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.